A Whole Other Country

Kerry, Winston and I are moving to Texas!

This Summer/Fall, I’ll start work on an MFA in creative writing at the University of Houston, specializing in fiction. I couldn’t be more excited. For my money, Houston’s prose faculty is as good as it gets: Antonya Nelson, Robert Boswell, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Alexander ParsonsMat JohnsonNick Flynn. ZZ Packer will be visiting this Fall. (James Franco is definitely not coming, though.) And Houston’s a huge, diverse city with cool neighborhoods, good food of all sorts, and an amazing array of cultural offerings. Yet the rent is in not too damn high. Iowa City’s been great, but we’re ready to get back to the many amenities of bigness. Also, Kerry has a really bad time with cold, and it’s hard to find a place less cold than Houston. And there is a giant dog park named after a presidential pooch! Houston is exactly what we need right now. It’s perfect.

Some of you will ask: Why? Because I want to write novels. Some of you will ask: Why not just write a novel then? (My colleague Jon Fasman does it!) Well, why don’t people who want to be economists or philosophers just go and write economics papers or philosophy books? Seriously… because I’m not satisfied with a life devoted primarily to politics and punditry, and it’s not so easy to pivot, just like that, to a life of literature and art. I could definitely use some instruction and, more importantly, a good chunk of time to write literary things immersed in a community of literary writers. The MFA did the trick for Kerry, and I think it’ll do the trick for me, too. That said, I’m not giving up on politics and punditry altogether. Grad students don’t exactly live like royalty, so I plan to keep up the pro-blogging and write the occasional op-ed or review. I’ll do less of it, though, and less of it will be about politics. In a year or two, I may disappear altogether, into fiction.

I think the most important thing I took away from all that time with my nose in happiness research and behavioral econ is that we overestimate the value of what we already have and so underestimate the upside of taking a chance, leaving something behind, and making a big change. Most of us end up where we are through a sort of drift. Sometimes that works out splendidly. And drift hasn’t not worked out for me. I really like what I do. But, alas, I don’t really love it. I never wanted to be a pundit or a “public intellectual.” I always wanted to be an artist of some sort and I still want that. I want to make awesome shit people love. It’s my new motto: make awesome shit people love. So here we go!

Inerrant Conduit of the General Will

Well, the polls say Obama won pretty decisively. It looks like this is because women don’t cotton to McCain, which is reasonable enough. Walnuts! Anyway, once again it is demonstrated that cosmopolitan libertarian metrosexual econophilosopher bloggers may not be the most reliable barometers of the popular mood.

Winston was sleeping during the debate, but we left CNN on to soothe his nerves during his first night sleeping outside the bedroom. So he says he saw the debate highlights “like a million times.” Winston suggests that though McCain seemed to control the debate, his offensive style was actually indicative of a lower rank in the dominance hierarchy, while Obama’s generous reserve made him look like the bigger dog. I still think McCain had the better of it, but Winston makes some good points.

Here is a picture of Winston contemplating the emptiness of consumerism: